|Title: Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game||Author: Robert K. Fitts|
|Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press||ISBN: 0-8093-2630-2|
|List Price: 19.95||Language: English|
|Japanese trading card and memorabilia expert Rob Fitts has filled
a great need in the english language historiography surrounding Japanese
baseball, obtaining first person oral accounts from both Japanese and foreign
players, 25 in all, about their days on the diamond for various Japanese
pro clubs over the years. Up until now, non-Japanese speaking fans have
had to rely almost solely on the fine tomes penned mainly be Robert Whiting
for historical accounts of the game in the Land of the Rising Sun. In fact,
Whiting has come up with an excellent foreword to this work, detailing
the difficulties of obtaining access to players, especially if they belonged
to the Yomiuri Giants. Happily, Fitts, along with his very able interpreter
Ami Shimizu, has surmounted those obstacles and collected a revealing
series of 25 interviews that range from oldtimers such as ex-Giants outfielder
Wally Yonamine and the great Nishitetsu Lions slugger Futoshi Nakanishi
to three time Chunichi Dragons batting champ Alonzo Powell and onetime
Pacific League MVP Ralph Bryant.
Indeed, aside from the problems with being allowed to interview players due to image conscious front offices, the other bugaboo afflicitng oral history accounts is that the subject of the interview will often use it as an opportunity to toot their own horn or inject their accomplishments with more glory than they deserve. Furthermore, memories can be wrong or hazy and every human being has their own psychological filter through which they see things and it can distort what actually happened. For example, Cappy Harada. a twice wounded veteran of WWII who does deserve considerable plaudits for his accomplishments during his involvement with Japanese baseball, comes off here as a kind of Forrest Gump, seemingly portraying huimself essentially as being everywhere at the time, even taking credit for getting the Russians to release captured Japanese soldiers from Siberian prison camps, something I can't find any corroboration for. Also, if one reads this site , he may also have exaggerated his role in the formation of the current two league system. On the other hand, there is no discussion of his important role of enabling the construction of Osaka Stadium and the political intrigue between the Nankai Hawks, the Shochiku Robins, and the U.S, occupation authorities that was engendered by it.
Then there is Daryl Spencer's portion of the book, in which he basically insists that he taught the Japanese how to play baseball. Spencer, not exactly the most savory person on the planet, did indeed show some of the way in analyzing player tendencies to some extent while he was with Hankyu. But it also needs to be said that it was Nankai shot caller Kazuto Tsuruoka who appointed the first advance scout in Japanese history long before Spencer even signed to play pro ball in MLB. Also, let us not forget the hard charging style of Wally Yonamine infused more aggression into Japan's top sport well before Spencer.
But those are really the only two parts of the book that rub one the wrong way. Fitts was fortunate enough to have been able to talk with Don Blasingame and it resulted in the most fascinating facet of it, that he was the shadow manager when playing manager Katsuya Nomura was ostensibly running the team so that Nomura could concentrate on his backstop duties.
Greg "Boomer" Wells' section drew interest due to his assertions
a few years ago that he was moved to Japan so that owner Calvin Griffith
Wells also claims that when he saw a rookie named Ichiro Suzuki and the way he used his hands, he new that the kid was going to be a star and urged team management to put him in the lineup immediately. That could be true, I saw Ichiro on tv in just one plate appearance and even I could recognize that he was a star in the making. So Wells may be telling the truth here. Nevertheless, Wells' suggestion fell on deaf ears and Ichiro was consigned to the minors before Akira Ogi was brought in to skipper the ballclub.
Perhaps the most Japanese, if one wants to view it that way, interview was with former San Francisco Giant Masanori Murakami, who talks about the inner conflicts of wanting to play in America while also wanting to stay true to the Japanese values of "on (owing somebody one)" and "giri" (repayment of gratitude)" that informs Japanese society. It left him with a Hobson's choice of either going back to Nankai and the regimented life of a player in Japan or running the risk of being seen as ungrateful for what Nankai had done for him. You will have to read the book for what happened next, but it is clear that Murakami should have remained in the big leagues.
Almost all the interviews have a few common threads to them: the spring workouts were like boot camp and foreign players often couldn't keep up; almost all the foreign players loved their teammates; the decisions surrounding the use and disposition of personnel that were made seemed to often be more for cultural reasons as opposed to purely baseball ones; managers often based their decisions on gut feeling rather than playing the percentages; there was indeed racism invloved in trying to prevent American players form winnign the Triple Crown and other titles; but that even with all that, almost to a one they are glad they played there and were grateful for the experience.
One other thing everyone agrees on is Shigeo Nagashima. The praise for Nagashima's ability herein backs up a quote Ken Boyer once uttered to the Japanese press back in 1958, "he is ready for the big leagues right now."
Of course, the question of who else had MLB petential comes up and there are a wide array of players mentioned, with the other favorites being Sadaharu Oh, Lotte hall of fame hurler Choji Murata and, get this, Yomiuri pitching great Takumi Otomo.
This is such a fun and interesting read that the 221 pages seem to
go by in no time at all. If Fitts had doubled that, it still would have
Fitts' next book will be about Yonamine and is about two years off from seeing the light of day. The quality of Remembering Japanese Baseball is such that one can hardly wait for that one, too.
|Title: Nankai Hawks ga Atta Koro: Yakyu Fan to Pa League no Bunkashi||Author: Yoshikazu Nagai and Shinya Hashizume|
|Publisher: Kinokuniya Shoten||ISBN: 4-314-00947-0|
|List Price: 1800 yen||Language: Japanese|
|If you have an intermediate level understanding of Japanese and
an interest in Japan's pro leagues, this book reads pretty easy. However,
it is not just about the Nankai Hawks (who are now owned by Daiei), but
it explores how the club interacted with its fans, how their followers
reacted to the team's fortunes and the changing nature of how Japanese
fans rooted for their favorite side and why Nankai lost out to the Yomiuri
Giants in the popularity sweepstakes even in their own market. In short,
this is definitely intended to be more sociology than baseball history
per se or hagiography. And it's interesting as hell. No wonder it has been
on Amazon Japan's baseball best sellers list for
a long time.
As could be expected, it begins with how the team came to be and what the incentives were for the Nankai Railway Company to create the Hawks (though they wouldn't formally adopt their nickname until the late 1940's) in 1938. As anyone who has been reading this site for a while will remember, teams in Japan are used as marketing tools to invite people to use their services or products. He eventually goes into the tensions between media firms who had clubs (for example, Nagoya/Chunichi, Mainichi, and Yomiuri) and railway outfits (Nankai, Hanshin, Kintetsu, Nishitetsu, Hankyu) and how the changing nature of Japanese cities, especially Osaka, and the coming of the automobile and television, handed the media outfits a substantial victory.
The section on postwar Japan and how the building of Osaka Stadium was informed by a subtext of the U.S. occupation's attempts to restore a sense of normalcy to the war ravaged country is perhaps more fun than salutary, but worthwhile nonetheless.
The most boring segment of this opus was the long, no, make that looooooong, exegisis of the vicissitudes of postwar oendan (organized cheer groups), though it is interesting to note that some of the features the Hanshin Tigers oendan is renowned for actually started in Hiroshima, the "jet fusen (jet balloons)" being one example. I'm just personally not interested in the subject, though it is an important part of the cultural experience of Japanese baseball. Others may differ.
So if your sense of Japanese baseball history is a little thin, this is a good place to start. I wouldn't call it definitive even with regards to its own subject matter, but for baseball fans with some language ability just becoming used to the country and getting to know its baseball scene, this is pretty good stuff.
|Title: Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball||Author: Henry D. Fetter|
|Publisher: Norton Books||ISBN: 0-393-05719-4|
|List Price: $25.95||Language: English|
|Here is the thesis of this book in a nutshell: it's not how much
money you spend, it's setting up an organization so that the right decisions
are made on a consistent basis. "Boy, there's a news bulletin," you might
think. Fortunately, this book is more than 389 pages (plus appendix and
annotated footnotes) of the author making what by now should be a banal
and obvious observation.
It spends a good deal of the early part of the book recounting the rather shady backgrounds of many of the early MLB team owners, their often even shadier business practices (the section on Charles Stoneham's stock swindling activities is particularly interesting) and the politics between the National and American Leagues, their minor league counterparts and the relationships between teams in the same circuit lends the reader attempting to understand the how the clown show that is the motley assortment of nincompoops who run your local and other pro nines came to be is extremely valuable and captivating. Those of you concerned about the current situation with the Expos will find it especially illuminating.
It then moves on to how the Yankees became the colossus of the major leagues and how mistakes made by their competitors, such as the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants, provided the spark for decades of domination in fascinating historical detail that shatters a lot of myths, especially the ones that propound the equation of Babe Ruth's sale to the Yankees being the big lever that spelled doom for beantown while giving big ups to the Big Apple. Actually, it was the combination of a series of deals between the Red Sox and the Bombers that made that happen.
Furthermore, the story that has Boston owner Harry Frazee selling
the Babe to New York so that he could finance the production of No No
What happened is that the Yankee ownership were smart businessmen who put baseball people in charge and got out of the way. They also reinvested in the club to build it up even more while other owners sapped their team's bottom line by skimming the profits for their own use that could have been used for player development (Stoneham pops up here again).
You also have the beginning of the kind of stick up ethos that governs the relationship between teams and their localities today in the Brooklyn Dodgers episode, when Walter O'Malley attempted to blackmail Brooklyn into forking out tens of millions of dollars in de facto subsidies for the new park that it could ill afford. O'Malley was even offered what would become Shea Stadium, but he kicked that idea aside and hyed off to L.A., where city councilman Kenny Hahn and his band of beggars, which is how they come off, gave O'Malley everything he wanted at considerable taxpayer expense. Stoneham comes off as pathetic in this section, as he was more or less wagged by the Dodger Dog in more or less being forced to go to the Bay Area. That any team had to play night after night in that glorified experiment in weather pathology, Candlestick Park, is almost abusive. Of course, this also left NYC as entirely a Yankee town.
Fetters then moves on to the tribulations of the Yankees under CBS,
where they were treated like little more than just another widget in the
corporate machine and the team's fortunes sank as the Mets ascended. Most
people don't realize that the ballpark in Flushing Meadows
George Steinbrenner, a little rich boy with a domineering father,
came in and wangled hundreds of millions from a bankrupt metropolis to
Fetters also has a long discourse on the evolution of player status, the reserve clause and free agency and how the latter came to be. In fact, it is done in such careful detail that I would call it the definitive overview for a general baseball audience.
Oddly, though, Fetters glosses over the 1919 Black Sox scandal that nearly deep sixed baseball's viability as the national pastime. There is almost no mention of it and what there was seemed little more than an "oh yeah, but."
Aside from that glaring bobble, though, this is an outstanding work that is extensively researched and footnoted. For anyone interested in baseball economics or just baseball history in general, it is essential.
|Title: Maboroshi no Tokyo Cubs||Author: Masaru Ogawa|
|Publisher: Mainichi Shimbunsha||ISBN: 620-31102-2 C0095 P1500E|
|List Price: 1500 Yen (hardback)||Language: Japanese|
|The word mabaroshi means something that could have
or should have happened but didn't. For example, several times during his
career, Giants third baseman Shigeo Nagashima lost home runs because either
he failed to touch a base or he passed a runner. Those are known as
mabaroshi home run. Thus, if I were given the ability to do the english translation of this book, and taking a page out of Harry Caray's
schtick, I would very loosely render the title as "The Woulda Been, Coulda Been, But Weren't Tokyo Cubs."
It follows the career of the life of one Atsushi Kono, the son of an unemployed samurai and a pitcher at Waseda University around the turn of the century who not only would play on and lead tours against teams in the U.S., but who was effectively the father of Japanese professional baseball, helping to found the Nihon Undo Kyokai, Japan's first professional team, and the Takarazuka Undo Kyokai, Japan's second pro club. However, both of those teams were star crossed, the first going under when the government seized his ballpark in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake and the second being victimized by the depression.
Kono later became involved with the pro league started by Yomiuri Shimbun owner Matsutaro Shoriki, the predecessor of what is now known as Nippon Professional Baseball or NPB. In fact, it was his and a friend's idea to build Korakuen Stadium. He was an executive with one of its weaker teams, the Eagles, and also was, for a while anyway, in the hierarchy in the league's management. But WWII would undermine the Eagles and it would ultimately help to seal the doom of Kono's postwar attempt to create a new team called the Tokyo Cubs that would have played at Korakuen.
What happened is that when Japan launched the war, Kono, based on
his experience in the U.S., knew that his country would lose and said
Ichioka and Kono had a long rivalry going back to when Ichioka played
on that Waseda nine that toured the U.S. with Kono as its manager.
Consequently, one gets quite an insight into the politics of pro
baseball in both the pre-war and post-war milieu in this relatively short
work (only about 189 pages) and the discussion centering around what happened
to players and management during the height of the war is fascinating and
illuminating. It is well researched, though repetitive at times. And it
is perhaps a little on the pricey side for such a brief
|Title: The Meaning of Ichiro: The New Wave from Japan and the Transformation of Our National Pastime||Author: Robert Whiting|
|Publisher: Warner Books||ISBN: 0-446-53192-8|
|List Price: $25.95||Language: English|
|First, to get the conflict of interest issue out of the way, author
Robert Whiting mentions my writing for Baseball Guru.com in a very positive
light toward the close of the book, for which I am truly grateful. However,
I will attempt to put that aside as much as possible in dealing with the
issues he raises. At least I haven't been on any hunting expeditions with
him at his expense.
This books represents a dilemma in a way: the publisher is looking for tonnage potential (i.e., sales) while the author may be looking to produce a more academic work that would deepen the understanding of the subject he is researching. Consequently, while the title seems to promise a sociological foray into the increasing interaction between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), it ultimately fails to be completely satisfying in that endeavor.
Yet, having said that, this is still a valuable work since, especially for the general english speaking audience it is geared to, it brings into clearer focus the players involved and the politics that go on between leagues that are separated not just by several thousand miles in distance, but by different traditions and assumptions as well. For example, he writes about how from the earliest days of Japanese high school baseball the game has represented a test of will and spirit for many coaches and fans with abominations such as the 1000 fungo drill and driving players until they throw up blood. For Japanese, it is all about process whereas in the west it is about results. Much like boot camp, the hardship these players endure builds an esprit de corps. However, there are also casualties. If you're of the non-conformist inclination or can't standup to the workload, you are weeded out. For every Hiromitsu Ochiai, who has done it his way since he was a schoolboy, there are tens of thousands who fall by the wayside with either exhausted or bitter spirits or wrecked pitching arms.
Whiting goes into great and illuminating detail as to how Ichiro
Suzuki was raised from a skinny kid in Aichi Prefecture to perhaps the
finest all around player in the world, with his father sacrificing enormously
while Ichiro mostly slept through his classes at Aikodai Meiden High School.
It then moves through his journey into the pros with Orix, criticized as
not top league material by manager Shozo Doi,
Whiting then takes us back to the Hideo Nomo-Don Nomura saga and
how Nomura, who was a bit of a sociological phenomenon himself, the son
of a woman who would later marry the greatest catcher in Japanese history,
Katsuya Nomura, who then turned around and took a Godzilla-sized chomp
out of the smugly complacent hide of NPB by guiding Nomo, then the most
dominant pitcher in the Japanese game, into Dodger Stadium. Furthermore,
Whiting betrays the front running nature of Japanese society when
Nomo turns from being
Whiting is also quite sympathetic to Hideki Irabu, a guy this writer had strong misgivings about when it was announced that he was going to try to take an MLB shot. Irabu had legitimate near 100mph stuff in Japan, but he paired that with substantial makeup problems. The Chiba Lotte Marines do not come off well in all this or the mind boggling Bobby Valnetine episode. Valentine was there, as it turns out, not as a manager in his own right, but as a glorified foreign consultant. The players loved the guy and Valentine's affection for Japan is well evidenced here, but the front office had its own agenda. It was like putting A.J. Foyt behind the wheel of a Model T, a complete waste of the man's strengths due to a slow turning and outmoded engine.
One interesting ommisson in Whiting's fascinating discussion of Don Nomura is that of the Robinson Checo affair. Checo was signed by the Hiroshima Carp out of their Dominican academy and won 15 games for them with a 2.78 ERA in 1995. Nomura became Checo's agent and rightly made demands for a hefty pay raise for his client over the peanuts that the Carp usually offers its academy signings in a country where every U.S. dollar has the purchasing power of about fifty cents. This lead to some very hostile toing and froing, with Hiroshima ultimately threatening to file a slander suit against Nomura, who was already Public Enemy Number One after taking Nomo to America. The salary dispute went to arbitration and, as usual, the owner's offer was approved while Checo's was rejected. Nomura, at the end of the day, had to issue a public apology to the Carp ownership and, iirc, he also paid some nominal sum for the trouble he caused.
Then at some point, Checo apparently fired Nomura (at least if what one MLB agent told me is correct) and his new rep gained Checo's release after a terrible 1996, signing a two year deal with Boston, where he washed out, before moving on to Detroit and L.A., where he also did zip and is now out of baseball. Those familiar with the Alfonso Soriano matter, which Whiting delves into, should recognize this as an atecedent, since a lot of the same also happened during the future Yankee and Ranger's time with Hiroshima. So that Whiting didn't discuss all this is curious, though it is possible his editor thought that Checo was too anonymous to most MLB fans to be germane and asked him to excise it.
Indeed, if it's one thing that The Meaning of Ichiro really
does well it is that it reads smoother than a brand new Cadillac rides
over the road. This is one polished piece of work, engaging as all get
out and as hard to put down as a bag of potato chips when you have the
That doesn't mean there weren't some jarring problems with this effort.
The first half of the book has some interesting typos, Tetsuharu Kawakami,
Japan's "god of hitting" being called "Tetsuji" and the phrase saabisu
zangyou (uncompensated overtime) being written as
Then there is the assertion in a quote from Doi that Sadaharu Oh had "struggled hard in the minor leagues during his first two or three years" before blossoming into a star. I've personally never heard of Oh spending any farm time, though it would have been possible his rookie year, when he played in 94 games and had 193 at bats with the big club. But after that, he was a regular player. So Doi was mistaken.
Whiting also talks about how Ichiro had his garbage gone through while living on tony Mercer Island. That contradicts what I've read. Ichiro supposedly had a condo in Bellevue, not Mercer Island (note that what I read could be due to Japanese reporters' lack of familiarity with Washington geography), and said that he liked Seattle because people left him alone when he went out on the town. I've known folks who've seen Ichiro and his wife shopping in the local supermarkets and none of them have said he was being hassled. So he apparently wasn't "mobbed," as Whiting wrote.
There is another interesting ommission with regard to Ichiro: Mariners
CEO Howard Lincoln said several months ago that the team nearly didn't
go after Ichiro "due to our experience with Mac Suzuki." Of all the stupid
things I have heard from MLB executives, that ranks up in the top two or
three. If you follow that line of "thinking," because the Dodgers had problems
with Darryl Strawberry, they should shy away from black players. Or with
the problems they had with Carlos Perez, they should stay out of the Dominican
Republic. So thanks to the Mariners problems with Venezuelan head cases
Carlos Guillen and Freddie Garcia are they going to refrain from scouting
Too, what is his source for the claim that Shigeo Nagashima, while
manager of the Yomiuri Giants, had slapped players. Mind you, that sort
of thing is not uncommon, even in the corporate world, in Japan, but that
was the first time I had heard of Nagashima, a firebrand as a
Also glossed over is that in the discussion of the Mike Di Muro incident, the umpire was pushed by Taiwanese Chunichi outfielder Yasuaki Taiho. How Taiho joined the Dragons is interesting in itself, but Taiho's first name here is omitted as was his nationality.
In the section on Masanori Murakami, where the Nankai Hawks look like complete nincompoops, there was nothing about an actual trade that the San Francisco Giants had pulled off with the Lotte Orions, where they sent outfielder Frank Johnson to Japan in exchange for pitcher Toru Hamaura roundabout 1972. Johnson was a stiff and Hamaura never made it to The Show, returning to Japan beginning with the 1974 season, where he had an undistinguished eight year career. I would have liked to know what changed between NPB and MLB that enabled that transaction.
On his stating that Mariners players were grumbling about "Japanese players taking all the money" when they learned of Seattle's intent to pursue Kazuo Matsui, I ran that by one of the local baseball writers here in the Seattle area and neither he nor his organization's beat writer had heard that directly from the players themselves, though he added the caveat, "that doesn't mean it didn't happen" given players' often "selfish paranoia."
And on a pedantic point, from my research, former Hanshin, Nankai,
Hiroshima and Nippon Ham hurler Yutaka Enatsu was busted for "kakuseizai
(speed)" and not "ahen (heroin)," as Whiting indicated. Moreover, Enatsu
had turned down a chance to pitch in the minors
Again, however, there are a lot of hurdles to writing a book on a
deadline with an editor looking over your shoulder the entire time, especially
for a broad audience of baseball fans and not geeks such as myself.
In the main, this is more of a sequel to You Gotta Have Wa